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Travel News 48 hours in London: Free things to do during your trip

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48 hours in London: Free things to do during your trip

Times are tough for travelers. But with the world preparing to reopen in 2021, we're here to keep you dreaming and planning for your next adventure - whether that's a staycation or flying off to parts unknown. Until then, we've got the latest COVID-19 travel advice and updates to keep you up to date and ready to go.

England’s capital city certainly isn’t known for being cheap, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t free things to do in London. With one British Pound (£) converting around $1.40 USD, it has never been a better time to visit England. (That might not seem like a great exchange rate, but trust us, it’s been a lot worse!) Even with this more-favorable exchange rate, there’s still plenty of must-see sites that won’t cost you a penny… errr, a pence.

Some of the best free things to do in London include:

Please always check government guidelines before planning and booking travel. Information in this article surrounding COVID guidelines is accurate as of May 15, 2021.

Day one of free things to do in London

Tower of London, Tower Bridge and City Hall

Regardless of your arrival time, start your day at the Tower Hill tube station. As soon as you step outside, you’ll get a clear view of the famous Tower of London, which once served as a royal palace, fortress, prison and place of execution. There is an admission charge to the Tower, but the nightly ceremony of the keys is free when booked online in advance.

All outdoor public areas of the Tower of London are currently open, while many indoor areas remain closed until May 19, 2021, due to COVID restrictions.

Right beside the Tower of London is one of the city’s most recognizable sites: Tower Bridge. Cross that by foot and you’ll be right in front of City Hall. The unusual shape of the building helps with energy preservation.

Picture from the bank overlooking Tower Bridge in London, one of the best free things to do in London

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The Shard and Borough Market

Walk a bit further west and you’ll quickly come to the HMS Belfast, which saw battle during World War II and is now a museum ship. Many people prefer to just pose for a picture since there is an admission fee to enter the ship.

If you haven’t noticed by now, poking out of the skyline just to the south is The Shard, which is the tallest building in London standing at 1,016 feet (309.6 meters). It’s definitely worth snapping a picture or selfie. If you want, you can get “free” entry to The Shard by visiting one of the bars or restaurants for a quick bite or drink.

Otherwise, head over to Borough Market where you can pick up some locally sourced food to snack on. Even if you’re not hungry, walking through the market is a must when it comes to free things to do in London, just to soak up the atmosphere.

Shakespeare’s Globe and the Tate Modern

Make your way back toward the River Thames and continue west. You’ll pass by Shakespeare’s Globe, a reconstruction of the Elizabethan playhouse Globe Theatre, and the Millennium Bridge. But it’s the Tate Modern that should interest you the most. Admission to this contemporary and modern art gallery is free, with the star attraction arguably being the special works commissioned for the enormous Turbine Hall every year.

If you’re traveling with little ones, the Southbank Centre may be of more interest to them. There are some free things to see and experience here, including art, performances, activities, workshops, talks and exhibitions. If you happen to be visiting on a weekend, be sure to head outside and grab a quick snack at the Southbank Centre Food Market.

London Eye, Big Ben and Westminster Palace

Before you call it a night, just around the bend is the London Eye. The giant Ferris wheel will cost you a small fortune to ride, so you may want to just walk across Westminster Bridge instead to get an up-close look at the iconic Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster.

Day two of free things to do in London

Buckingham Palace

Your first day was busy, so feel free to sleep in before making your way to Buckingham Palace to catch the Changing the Guard ceremony. As long as the weather holds, you can watch it in action at 11am on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, or daily in the summer. The ceremony has been performed since 1660 and takes about 45 minutes to complete. This is one of the ultimate free things to do in London and should not be missed!

The Changing the Guard ceremonies are currently on hold to avoid mass gatherings in accordance with government guidelines. Check for updated information if you plan to attend.

British palace guards marching in sync in red jackets

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Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery

After the ceremony ends, a quick walk down The Mall will take you to the “center of the city” at Trafalgar Square. Here you’ll find many statues and monuments commemorating the Battle of Trafalgar. The square has been a significant landmark since the 13th century and is overlooked by the National Gallery. Admission to the art museum is free, so don’t miss its collection of art masterpieces, including Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Leonardo da Vinci’s The Virgin of the Rocks.

Trafalgar Square at dusk with fountain and building lit up. People in background enjoying Trafalgar as one of the best free things to do in London

Piccadilly Circus

If you haven’t done so already, now is the perfect time to stop for a meal. Just a 5-minute walk away is London’s Soho area, where you’ll find plenty of dining options. Nearby is Piccadilly Circus, the “Times Square” of London, where there are massive electronic boards of advertisements and the statue of Anteros. While you’re there, you might as well check out Regent, Carnaby and Oxford streets, which have some of the best shopping options in the city. Wandering this area is one of our favorite free things to do in London.

The British Museum

End the afternoon by visiting the British Museum, which is home to some of civilization’s best artifacts, including the Rosetta Stone, which was instrumental in helping researchers decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs, and the Elgin Marbles, which are Greek marble sculptures that were originally part of the temple of the Parthenon in Athens.

Finally, before you depart, try to catch a view from the 20 Fenchurch Street skyscraper. Many locals criticize the look of the building and have nicknamed it “The Walkie-Talkie,” but no one will deny the epic views of London’s South Bank from the Sky Garden located on the 35th floor. Admission is free, but you must book your viewing well in advance.

Before you travel across the pond and enjoy all the free things London has to offer, remember to check current COVID guidelines and regulations.

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What can you do for free in London?

Visit the Tate Modern, National Gallery, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square and many more attractions. There is a surprisingly large number of completely free things to do when visiting London.

How much does the London Eye cost?

You can save money by booking online and in advance. Day-of tickets to ride the London Eye cost £31 for adults but only £24.50 online. You can buy skip-the-line tickets in advance, for £41 on the day of entry or for £34.50 if you buy in advance online.

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